Ivan Demidov is, more or less, the Chris Moneymaker of Russia.
Before his runner-up finish in the 2008 WSOP Main Event the Russian poker scene was comparatively small and relatively fractured.
Today Russia is one of the most active and growing poker markets in the world, bar none. And Demidov, along with the poker forum he helped create, is still playing a central role.
The former Muscovite has now decamped to Riga, Latvia, to live full-time but he's well aware of the numbers and see Russia as a potent market for years to come.
Russia the Best Poker Nation?
PokerListings sat down with Demidov at EPT Prague for his take on Russian high-stakes dominance, poker's imminent legal return in 2015 and his own plans for his poker future.
PokerListings: Ivan, there are more players from Russia than from any other country here in Prague. Why is the Czech EPT so popular for Russian poker players? Don’t you need a visa here?
"We didn’t really exist on the market before my second place in the WSOP main event in 2008."
Ivan Demidov: We do need a visa. But Prague is a popular destination for Russians in general.
A lot of Russians own real estate here in the Czech Republic. And secondly it’s cheap and easy to get here from Moscow.
PL: For Russian players, www.gypsy.ru is the most popular news and forum website in Russian. You played an important role there for a long time. Can you explain your involvement there?
ID: The website has been in existence now for five years. After I finished 2nd in the WSOP Main Event five or six of us players gathered together and decided to start this website.
It was co-founded and backed by Sergej Rybachenko - who's nickname is "gypsy." We wanted to use our popularity to blog from our poker trips all around the world.
We have 10 people working on the site now and I am one of the initial investors. We didn’t invest more than $30,000 in the beginning.
I, personally, never held an official position but of course I did a lot to make the site grow.
PL: Russia has become one of the strongest poker nations with dominating players like high-stakes specialists Alexander Kostritsyn, Trueteller and forhayley
ID: Yes and we are proud of it. Especially Trueteller is widely respected.
I think he is the best player in the world in shortstack CAP games. But these dried out a little bit because of his dominance.
So now he’s playing more other games like 8-Game and Limit games. He is a very talented guy and I think he will be a weapon there too very soon.
Kostritsyn just one in a dominant high-stakes group.
PL: Do you know who he is?
ID: No. I would like to meet him personally. But except for some discussions via Skype I haven’t had any contact with him.
PL: Many players say today that it's harder and harder to make a living playing poker. Would you still recommend poker as a career to young players?
ID: I'm not the one to decide for them. The only thing what we should do as poker representatives is to tell the truth how it really is.
Aside from this philosophical point of view, I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody. If you have a good education, for example an academic degree, you have other possibilities.
But if you are, for example, a student in a small city in Russia, you could build up a decent bankroll and start a small business with that.
You don’t need that much money to start a business in a small city in Russia. And it could be the chance to start a better life somewhere else.
I know the numbers for the (Russian) market and it's still growing really fast.
I think it has something to do with that we didn’t really exist on the market before my second place in the WSOP main event in 2008.
"I expect poker to become legal again in 2015."
PL: Your are for Russia what Chris Moneymaker is for the US and Europe. Do you have any influence in politics and legalisation of the poker market?
ID: Not really. The only thing I can say is that I expect poker to become legal again in 2015.
There is a big movement supporting legalisation in Russia and politicians seem to lean towards legalizing it.
But right now the government has other issues to deal with, which might slow things down.
PL: Where would be the perfect place for a casino?
ID: I guess Sochi would be perfect. The Crimean might also be a possibility, but I think for a company like PokerStars the name has too bad of a ring to it now.
Before they banned poker the government planned to build up four different areas with legal casinos. This was a total failure.
There is now only one gaming zone in the Krasnodar area, called “Asov-City." This is in the middle of nowhere, it’s hard to get there and way too small.
So the government must do something to make a profit from the people they want to gamble.
PL: How important is poker in your daily life?
ID: It is still the main thing I do. I either play or follow the news or try to improve my game by studying the game. I play mostly live.
PL: Where do you play live, if it is forbidden in Russia?
Done with traffic jams
ID: I go to Northern Cyprus or to some tournaments on the EPT or at the WSOP.
PL: Your are the father of a son. How do you get travelling in line with family life?
ID: My son is now almost five years old and my wife was a professional poker player herself.
So my son doesn’t need as much attention as he did two years ago and my wife understands the lifestyle of a professional player.
It’s not a big deal for her.
PL: A lot of poker players leave Moscow because the city is so fast and busy and expensive. What about you?
ID: I recently bought a house in Riga. I planned that for some time now, but I made my final decision two weeks ago.
After it took me almost four hours by car to make it to my datscha, which is only 50 km outside Moscow, I’ve had enough.
I am tired of all these traffic jams.